We have chosen Professor Draper to participate in this month’s Professor Spotlight. This is due to the fact that he is one of our new faculty members and we thought this would be a great way to get to know him. Professor Draper specializes in Theoretical Particle Physics. Please take a moment to review Professor Draper's publications here.
What is your professional background? What did you major in and where? Where did you go to graduate school and for what? How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?
I majored in physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a large public research university with many similarities to UMass. I think having a similar undergraduate experience will help guide my teaching and mentoring here. After UIUC, I went to grad school at the University of Chicago, and then did postdocs at the University of California Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara. Altogether I followed a fairly standard track for a career in academics and physics research.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school? How did you decide which grad school to go to? What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?
I wanted to do research in theoretical particle physics, so I applied to the schools with the best reputations in that area. I got some rejections and some acceptances; in the end I was lucky to have a choice between a few schools that I was particularly excited about. Among those, my girlfriend (now wife) and I chose Chicago because the city offered the best opportunities for her career in medicine. For students looking at graduate schools, I recommend focusing on two aspects: (1) specific research advisors with whom you might work, because they will have an extremely strong influence on your training, your overall experience, and your career, and (2) considerations of personal life, because graduate school usually takes several years of hard work, and it can be helpful in the long run to maintain a level of balance.
Breifly, explain your research:
I study the laws of physics at high energies. I try to understand what results from collider and cosmological experiments tell us about the structure of these laws.
What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?
Most of my research uses the framework of quantum field theory, which is the unification of the principles of quantum mechanics with classical field theories like electrodynamics. So the E&M and quantum mechanics courses introduce concepts that are probably closest to my research.
Do you take undergraduates in your research group? What type of work do they do? Have you published any papers with undergraduates?
I haven't yet, but I would certainly consider it! There are some tools and techniques, particularly related to collider simulations and data analysis, that are used in theoretical particle physics and would be accessible to a student prior to studying quantum field theory. This sort of experience could be useful preparation for a student planning to do graduate work in particle physics.
What is your favorite class to teach at UMass at the undergraduate level?
I just arrived this fall and am teaching a graduate course this semester, but I'm looking forward to teaching statistical mechanics in the spring.
What do you do outside of physics? Do you have a hobby?
I like to travel and go out into nature. Big Sur was my favorite part of California and I'm enjoying starting see some of the forests and wildlife out here.
What do you consider the frontier of high energy theory?
The physics of the Higgs boson, discovered in 2012, is extremely mysterious. There is a compelling argument, known as the hierarchy problem, that the Higgs should be accompanied by a whole host of new particles, interactions, and symmetries at roughly the same energy scale. So far, we haven't observed any sign of these "beyond the Standard Model" phenomena. Right now and continuing over the next several years, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is carrying out the highest energy, most sensitive searches for physics beyond the Standard Model ever performed. This is the frontier of high energy experiments, and one task of theory is to explain the fundamental implications of the results, whatever they turn out to be. Another role for theory is to come up with new models to address the hierarchy problem (and other open problems), and to work out their predictions, so that we can make the most out of the experimental programs.
What is the most interesting, weirdest, or unexpected part of being a professor you have noticed/encountered so far?
I didn't expect to be involved in new hiring already! It's great to have the opportunity to grow the department and I'm excited to participate.